John Setka will set Labor’s industrial laws agenda

 

Recent comments by CFMMEU Victorian secretary John Setka should act as a dire warning about the type of economy, society and workplace relations agenda we would see under a Shorten Labor government.

Setka, having been found guilty of more than 59 offences, including assault, theft, and wilful trespass, has received a rally of support from the Australian Lab­or Party, despite his clear statement that he believes unions need to break the law. Setka’s remarks, and the response from Bill Shorten, Brendan O’Connor and others, have shone a spotlight on the character of the people who make up the leadership of the ALP.

The Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union is notoriously shameless, and indeed is proud of its lawlessness. In recent years the courts have imposed fines of more than $14.9 million on the CFMMEU and its officials for proven breaches of industrial law. There are an astounding 72 CFMMEU officials before the courts.

Unfortunately, one of Australia’s most corrupt union is also its ­richest. It regards multiple fines as simply a cost of doing business — millions of everyday union members’ dollars spent on paying the fines of their law-breaking ­officials. If that is not concerning enough, Labor has welcomed more than $11m in donations from the CFMMEU since 2000.

Setka is effectively Labor’s shadow workplace relations minister. And what he says will be carried out under a Shorten government.

He already has a shopping list of requests. We can be sure that he will find a receptive ear in the Opposi­tion Leader, who is heavily reliant on union ­support.

It was the Howard government that reformed the waterfront. It is the Turnbull government that is reforming the building industry.

Both industries are vital to Australia’s economic health. It has been 20 years since the waterfront dispute, which led to significant productivity reforms that have benefited the entire Australian community ever since.

Shorten will undo all of this progress, adding the last nail in the coffin of the Hawke-Keating legacy of economic responsibility under Labor. It is more beholden to law-breaking union bosses than ever, and this ­Coalition government is once again standing up against the ­lawlessness of the big unions. Sensible workplace reform has been central to the Coali­tion government’s agenda. The government has not just tinkered around the edges but has passed seven significant workplace reform bills through the parliament since 2016.

We went to the last election on double-dissolution triggers to ­­re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission and establish the Registered Organisations Commission. Then we got them through the parliament.

The return of the ABCC, which Labor abolished at the behest of the unions, together with the introduction of the new building code, is boosting the construction industry by applying the rule of law and protecting Australia’s reputation as an attractive place to do business.

Our corrupting benefits legislation now prohibits secret and ­illegitimate payments between employers and unions, and ­requires greater transparency by both in their dealings with ­workers.

We legislated to abolish Labor’s so-called Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal to protect owner-drivers across Australia and legislated to protect emer­gency services volunteers from hostile union takeovers.

We also have secured important protections for workers with the vulnerable workers legislation to detect and deter serious breaches of workplace laws by employers.

These changes benefit the vast majority of employers that do the right thing by levelling the playing field and preventing wage rip-offs by unscrupulous employers.

We achieved all of these reforms in the face of vehement opposition from Labor and the union movement, which now owns two parties in the Senate and spends millions on campaigns to influence and cajole the remaining senators.

The Coalition instigated the trade union royal commission that uncovered widespread misbehaviour and corruption in the union movement. As a result, there have been nine criminal convictions and three civil penalties handed down by the courts. A further eight matters are subject to legal proceedings.

Everyone — employers and unions — must abide by the law. If individuals are breaking workplace laws with impunity, then those laws must be strengthened.

However, the big unions are now calling for the laws to be ­watered down. The irony of the ACTU’s “Change the Rules” campaign is that Labor, with the guiding hand of the ACTU, wrote the rules. Shorten sat on the government benches when the Fair Work Act was implemented.

He was the minister for workplace relations for almost two years, out there selling them to Australians.

The Ensuring Integrity Bill, currently before the Senate, remains our key priority.

This bill was never just about the merger of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union and the Maritime Union of Australia. It will strengthen the ability of the courts to deal with officials who deliberately flout the law, engage in financial misconduct and fail to act in their members’ interests.

Sadly, this conduct has become business as usual for the CFMMEU, and many of its officials believe they have a right to engage in it with impunity.

Labor and the Greens remain vehemently opposed to this legislation, notwithstanding the fact union members will benefit most from it. Regrettably, several crucial crossbench senators also do not support the legislation.

Labor’s position on workplace reform shows it has abandoned Australian workers in exchange for the favour of their union ­bosses. Labor would rather play games in the parliament and frustrate the passing of legislation, even when it will benefit the people it claims to represent.

Michaelia Cash is the Jobs and Innovation Minister; Craig Laundy is the Small and Family Business, the Workplace and Deregulation Minister.